Thursday, September 30, 2010

revisiting 'another woman'

PopMatters was kind enough to include my article on the performance of Gena Rowlands in Another Woman. It's part of a series they are doing on women in the films of Woody Allen. There are some really great write-ups there of women, whether in major or minor roles, who have left indelible impressions in cinema.

It was really great to analyze Gena Rowlands and revisit the film. It's not really one of Woody Allen's most discussed films but I think it's one of his best. It's careful, moving, and wry and full of really interesting small appearances by great actors like Gene Hackman, Mia Farrow, Sandy Dennis, Ian Holm and John Houseman. Read my original review here.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

disco movie themes

The 1970s were so good. I mean doing the bus stop to "Love Theme from King Kong"? And the fashion. I love it.

Here are some other disco movie themes.

Monday, September 27, 2010

howl & mary, mary quite contrary

This is a really great interview by Erik Anderson with Howl directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman.

Also check out James Franco's favorite poems. He's so dreamy and has nice taste.

Coming out this fall is a new issue of William Johnson's literary journal Mary. Looks great!

Sunday, September 26, 2010


In 1957, Lawrence Ferlinghetti was arrested and charged for obscenity for publishing Allen Ginsberg's revolutionary poem Howl which references sexuality and drug use among other topical taboos of the era. In the film Howl, Judge Clayton Horn (Bob Balaban) remarks " is not encased in one formula whereby everyone acts the same and conforms to a particular pattern." Directors Robert Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman eschew straight narrative for a disjointed docu-styled one lensed in varying stocks which ultimately becomes repetitive. The movie is a cyclical wash of black and white scenes of Ginsberg (James Franco) reading Howl, a blandly-realized obscenity trial (with an unfortunately-cast Jon Hamm as the lead defense attorney with no back story, constantly relying on all of his raised-eyebrow Don Draper expressions of surprise), tape-recorded interview scenes of Ginsberg, very literal Eric Drooker art montage translations, and of stray scenes that attempt to piece together some sort of biography. The jumbling of all of this seems to achieve something akin to what the directors believe is poetic.

Epstein and Friedman are such incredibly important filmmakers; their exceptional documentaries (Word is Out, The Times of Harvey Milk, Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt, and The Celluloid Closet among their works) have been both influential and part of the national dialogue on homosexuality. It's because of how much I admire them and how important I believe the subject matter at hand to be that I feel a bit bad for thinking their Howl doesn't do enough. The conversation that Ginsberg's landmark poem has with this film is often an interesting one, especially when the text is spoken by contrasting voices (lawyers and Ginsberg himself). Edward Lachman, a great cinematographer, is able to seamlessly capture many different tones as he did so well with on the similarly-styled I'm Not There.. But the film often feels like a batch of missed opportunities: I yearned more for dialogue from Neal Cassady (Jon Prescot), Peter Orlovsky (Aaron Tveit), Ferlinghetti (Andrew Rogers) and company. James Franco is so compelling as Allen Ginsberg that it's a shame that Howl fails him so often. Surrounded by flat characters, Franco rises above everyone with the little bits the film gives him and carves out an eloquent, real and fascinating performance. He matches Ginsberg's cadences as well. This makes Howl a sometimes lovely tribute but an incomplete one. **

-Jeffery Berg

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

the city of your final destination

James Ivory's film adaptation of Peter Cameron's The City of Your Final Destination is a quiet gem. The story concerns a college professor named Omar (Omar Metwally) who travels to Uruguay to the secluded estate of late novelist, Jules Gund who committed suicide there, in order to secure the authorization of Gund's biography from his family. He is met with resistance, primarily by Gund's guarded and bitter widow Caroline (a wonderful Laura Linney). Omar is somewhat naive and doesn't seem effected emotionally by many things. The project of Gund's biography seems more of a love of his stern girlfriend's (Alexandra Maria Lara) than of his own. However Omar is transformed in unexpected ways through the slow unraveling of details from Gund's eclectic clan: his mistress (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and their young daughter (Ambar Mallman), Jules's affable brother Adam (Anthony Hopkins) and his much younger boyfriend (Hiroyuki Sanada). The film thrives on its source material: Cameron's richly observed novel. The Gondola, the title of Gund's only novel, becomes a complex symbol of romance and of the Gund family past as it sits "rotting in the boathouse." And like Capote, the story wrestles with the ambivalent nature of writing about real people and the ones we love, whether in biography or fiction (which is the case of Gund's unfinished manuscript that casts Caroline in an unfavorable light).

One either loves or hates to experience the quiet elegance of an Ivory flick. Remains of the Day is still Ivory's masterpiece, moving leisurely along until it arrives to its sad, unforgettable conclusion. The City of Your Final Destination certainly pales a bit in comparison and it may test the patience of the viewer who wants more action but the film is such an acute character study, beautifully scripted by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, and so well-acted (especially by the supporting females: Gainsbourg, Linney, and Alexandra Maria Lara), that it's a joy to watch all of the interactions. Because the film is so carefully mounted, the changes the characters make are subtle but also thrilling. ***1/2

-Jeffery Berg


After a depressing day in the Senate, I find Carey Mulligan's style uplifting.

Love her tresses a little longer like this too!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

don't ask, don't tell

Today's vote, led by John McCain, was beyond despicable. Once again the GOP shows their complete disdain for LGBT Americans. I hope everyone contacts President Obama and their local Senators to express their views on what should be a non-issue.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

sunday shoutouts

I have to admit I'm a bit weary of all the hoopla surrounding Jonathan Franzen's Freedom. I'm disappointed too that Oprah is picking him again for her Book Club (Oprah and Franzen have mended ways: check out Oprah's Book Club announcement here; and good to hear she will be recommending more books onward!) not only because the book is already such a success but also because he was such an ungrateful twit the first go around. What strikes me most about Freedom is that Franzen isn't a poetic writer. He's more an acute journalist, often telling more than showing--pegging people as Republicans or Democrats. This fast-paced style and his flawed, memorable characters stuck in the Bush years are what make the book so tremendously entertaining. I was struck too by the ending which I think is one of the finest I've read in a contemporary novel in years. I recommend reading the always thoughtful Meghan O'Rourke and her Slate essay on the "Franzen flap." And Charles Baxter's (a very good novelist) acute analysis of the book.

Ron Silliman offers an interesting perspective on what I thought were the few pesky character flaws in the film The Kids Are All Right. (I could not help wondering, the morning after I saw The Kids, what it means when a good character, someone whom the audience is obviously intended to identify with, the absolute center of this film, does something despicable. In the case of Moore’s character, it’s that she fires her assistant... Moore, like every other main figure, gets her comeuppance in the end, but not for this.)

A profile of Zoe-sidekick Brad Goreski in the Style section of NYT.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Friday, September 17, 2010

the two trees

The work of Larry Levis has meant a lot to me as a writer. I wrote the poem "Closing" (now on Cavalier Literary Couture) as a tribute to him. When I lived in Richmond I worked in a bookstore and upstairs, where the accounting was done, and where one of Levis's friends worked, was his personal collection of books. What still haunts me is being up there with those books (some of the spines worn, some not) and looking out the window onto a city that has renewed itself in some aspects, but also still clings to a terrible past. It wasn't until after re-reading his poem "The Two Trees" that I felt compelled to write a poem about that experience.

Here is Larry's beautiful poem. If I were to think of a poem as a companion, I'd like to have this one:

The Two Trees

My name in Latin is light to carry & victorious.
I'd read late in the library, then
Walk out past the stacks, rows, aisles

Of books, where the memoirs of battles slowly gave way
To case histories of molestation & abuse.

The black windows looked out onto the black lawn.


Friends, in the middle of this life, I was embraced
By failure. It clung to me & did not let go.
When I ran, brother limitation raced.

Beside me like a shadow. Have you never
Felt like this, everyone you know,

Turning, the more they talked, into . . .

Acquaintances? So many strong opinions!

And when I tried to speak—
Someone always interrupting. My head ached.
And I would walk home in the blackness of winter.

I still had two friends, but they were trees.
One was a box elder, the other a horse chestnut.

I used to stop on my way home & talk to each

Of them. The three of us lived in Utah then, though
We never learned why, me, acer negundo, & the other
One, whose name I can never remember.

"Everything I have done has come to nothing.
It is not even worth mocking," I would tell them
And then I would look up into their limbs & see
How they were covered in ice. "You do not even
Have a car anymore," one of them would answer.

All their limbs glistening above me,
No light was as cold or clear.

I got over it, but I was never the same,

Hearing the snow change to rain & the wind swirl,
And the gull's cry, that it could not fly out of.

In time, in a few months, I could walk beneath
Both trees without bothering to look up
Anymore, neither at the one

Whose leaves & trunk were being slowly colonized by
Birds again, nor at the other, sleepier, more slender

One, that seemed frail, but was really

Oblivious to everything. Simply oblivious to it,
With the pale leaves climbing one side of it,
An obscure sheen in them,

And the other side, for some reason, black bare,
The same, almost irresistible, carved indifference

In the shape of its limbs

As if someone's cries for help
Had been muffled by them once, concealed there,

Her white flesh just underneath the slowly peeling bark

—while the joggers swerved around me & I stared—

Still tempting me to step in, find her,

And possess her completely.

-Larry Levis, from his collection Elegy

There is much to read about Levis on Blackbird. The last line of this poem should be indented more (hard to do on blogger) and the poem can be seen in its true form there.

VCU is hosting a conference on Levis this September.

Levis on

"The Two Trees" by William Butler Yeats

in the year 2000...

Check out this reel from the 1930s or 40s forecasting future fashions.